Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades outlined the government's plan on Friday to manage the coronavirus pandemic, announcing travel restrictions which some critics said did not go far enough.
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In his first national address since the coronavirus crisis, Anastasiades on Friday night called on private citizens to do their fair share in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic, saying "all citizens bear the task of implementing the measures" that included partial travel restrictions, social distancing, and school closings.
Anastasiades said the government has issued a 15-day ban on foreign nationals, including EU citizens traveling to Cyprus, unless travelers were registered for employment as legal aliens with state authorities or part of a diplomatic mission in the Republic.
The ban did not include foreign students from the European Union or other countries, while foreign nationals on specific business contracts or carrying out work deemed absolutely necessary could request an exception.
But critics said the ban did not go far enough as it did not deal with one of the biggest groups of travelers this time of the year, the massive number of Greek Cypriot students in Greece who fly back every year for Easter, a popular religious holiday taking place next month.
The Presidential Palace was flooded with phone calls by concerned parents, who have been urging the president over the last few days not to shut down airports
Anastasiades called on young Cypriots to stay home, but according to Kathimerini Cyprus he did not specifically call on Greek Cypriot students in Greece to stay away from the island as Orthodox Easter was fast-approaching.
"To all our compatriots, whether residing abroad or in Cyprus, I appeal to you to avoid unnecessary travel" the president said.
According to Karhimerini's Marina Economides, the Presidential Palace was flooded with phone calls by concerned parents, who have been urging the president over the last few days not to shut down airports.
According to the travel measures, citizens of the Republic of Cyprus can travel to the island as long as they adhere to health protocols and measures currently set up at airports and sea ports. The action plan is subject to revisions in two weeks.
Movement across the divided island’s buffer zone has also been restricted according to the measures, which banned foreign nationals and tourists but not Greek Cypriots or legal residents including Turkish Cypriots who are lawful inhabitants in the south.
On Saturday, authorities in the north banned all persons including Greek Cypriots from crossing except Turkish Cypriots returning home or legal residents who legally reside in the north.
Health officials in the south said confirmed cases were expected to rise considerably, with numbers relative to population size being the second highest in Europe after Italy. Officials attribute the high numbers to successful tracing efforts in cases where suspected carriers are quickly and diligently tracked down after an infection is detected.
WHO says "do it all" and not just a few measures
Reports also said two hours before Anastasiades addressed the nation, which took place half an hour after its scheduled time, the World Health Organization announced that Europe was at the center of the pandemic. WHO called on countries to "do it all" and not just a few measures.
Government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos said the delay in the president's scheduled speech was due to last minute consultations on several issues including measures involving travel bans on EU citizens.
"Some minor issues came up and had to be clarified, and once we did, the president went ahead with the address," Koushos said.
There were 26 confirmed cases on the island as of Friday night, 21 in the south and 5 in the north.
While medical experts said the number was sure to climb in the immediate future, health officials said they were not worried about rogue cases after foreign tourists who were passengers of an infected taxicab driver had been tracked down.